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date: 07 December 2019

Summary and Keywords

Throughout the ages, the editor’s primary role has been to connect writers with readers by deciding what to publish. In modern scholarship, this is known as gatekeeping. The stories an editor allows through the metaphorical “gate” can influence what readers find important—what scholars call agenda setting. But editors not only influence which stories are told; they also shape how stories are told, through word choice, story arrangement, selection of examples, photos, and the all-important headline; this is known as framing. Historians and biographers have written a good deal about individual editors—their publications, their editorial instincts, their altercations with powerful politicians, and their pursuit of truth, entertainment, profit, and influence. But there has been less focus on the broader changes that have impacted the work of editors as the media ecosystem has shifted. Cultural and social changes have created new demands on editors, who have had to adjust to stay in sync with audiences’ tastes and expectations. Technological invention—and the disruption of old economic models—have forced editors to adapt to new mediums of mass communication that serve new audiences and new financial realities. In short, broader economic, political, technological, and social changes have all influenced what type of editing has flourished and what practices drifted into the past. The Internet has posed an existential threat to editors as gatekeepers. Countless new gates that connect readers and writers have been thrown open, some with little to no editorial oversight. This is far from the first time editors have been forced to adapt to change—the history of editing has been a story of innovation in a continuing quest to find new ways to connect readers and writers. Today, despite the decline in gatekeeping power, professional editing still has an essential role—to curate quality out of the multitude of online voices and uphold a rigor for accuracy and truthfulness that can be easily overlooked on social media and non-professional news sites. Whether it is approving (or rejecting) a topic of investigation, copy-editing prose, fact-checking a story, arranging the home page of a website, managing a newsroom, or deciding which journalist to hire, editors play an integral role in shaping the information that is shared with audiences.

Keywords: editing, editor, editing history, journalism, journalism history, journalism studies, newspapers, agenda setting, gatekeeping, framing

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